Friday, May 19, 2017

2017 Frank Willson Memorial Award Goes To Katie Cunningham And Barbara Shaurette

Every year the Python Software Foundation awards the Frank Willison Memorial Award to a member(s) of the Python community. The purpose of this award is to recognize the outstanding contributions that Python community members have made having began as an award, “established in memory of Frank Willison, a Python enthusiast and O'Reilly editor-in-chief, who died in July 2001”.

The Python Software Foundation has awarded the 2017 Frank Willison Award to Katie Cunningham and Barbara Shaurette in recognition of their work creating Young Coders classes.  Cunningham and Shaurette have gone above and beyond making the Young Coders teaching materials freely available.

The program began at PyCon 2013 in Santa Clara and was an immediate success. The follow-up blog post is the second most popular post in PyCon's history by a wide margin. Additionally the event was one of the most talked about topics of the 2013 conference.

Lynn Root and Jesse Noller pitched the idea to Cunningham asking her to lead it. Cunningham  then reached out to Shaurette seeking her assistance, or as she said, “Omg help!”

Shaurette has experience teaching early childhood education. Her experience teaching younger students came in handy as she reworked materials used for adult classes into the materials the program uses today. The class includes Raspberry Pis, keyboards, and a mouse that the students were allowed to take with them, along with two books Python for Kids and Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners.

The first class for students aged 10 to 12 did not go without hitches.  That year there were a lot of technical issues with the Raspberry Pis. Noah Kantrowitz saved the day helping Cunningham and Barbara getting the Raspberry Pi’s set up. “The setup is a little complex, but he set the guidelines for what equipment we use, and how we plan the classroom every year,” Shaurette said.

“There were moments setting up that I said, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work,” Cunningham  recalls.

That first class was eight hours. Then Katie and Barbara wrapped up and did it again the next day for a second a time with a whole new class.

By the end of the first day it was already a noted success. “The enthusiasm around it was insane. People were so excited that we were doing it. We were off in our own corner and not central to the conference, but people were stopping by and peeking in,” Cunningham  explains.

Once the kids were let loose to experiment, they tried all sorts of things.  “I don't think you'd ever see that kind of experimentation in a classroom full of adults, who would more likely do everything in their power not to break their computers,”  Shaurette wrote of the kids’ ability to learn, write, and run code.

The second day was a whole new class, but this time it was a group of 13 to 16 year olds, and just as successful. “One thing that I find is how energizing the kids get at the end,” Cunningham said.

Not long after that, Young Coders was approached by the PyOhio and PyTennessee organizers. Both conferences have held Young Coders nearly every year since.  Brad Montgomery has taken over responsibility in PyTennessee, but  Cunningham  still runs the workshop at PyOhio.

Since the start of the program  Cunningham  and Shaurette have taught over 400 kids!

We thank Cunningham and Shaurette  for their work in actively promoting and teaching Python to a new generation of programmers.